Photograph of the Gaptivist, Sophia Young

Better Bus Youth supported the City of Regina in embracing fare-free transit for youth 13 year olds and under, aiming for accessible communities.

Regina is located on the traditional lands of the Treaty 4 territory. The treaty was signed with 35 First Nations across southern Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta and Manitoba, and covers the original lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Nakota and Lakota, and the Métis Nation.

Better Bus Youth, a youth-led organization made up of students from across Regina, is aiming to create accessible communities where every child can succeed. By initially supporting the City of Regina in embracing fare-free transit for youth 13 and under, they secured unanimous city council approval. The next step? Acquiring fare-free transit for all youth under the age of 18 through a pilot program.

In the bustling city of Regina, 18-year-old Sophia Young, founded Better Bus Youth, which is making a significant impact. Her story is not merely about surmounting personal adversities but also about leveraging those experiences to make positive change in her community. Sophia’s journey is a compelling testament to the transformative power of youth and the profound impact one person can make in their community.

Sophia’s story is rooted in challenges she overcame. Starting with a difficult commute to school, coupled with her parents’ concerns about racism they had faced in the community, Sophia encountered significant hurdles in her quest for opportunities that would allow her to build her future.

Recognizing that her struggle was not unique, Sophia said, “I realized I wasn’t alone in my transportation barriers. I saw that they were obstacles to opportunities, friendships and dreams.” This realization ignited a spark in Sophia, leading her to volunteer with the Regina Open Door Society. There, she noticed similar challenges among her peers, particularly newcomers and low-income students.

For youth, transportation barriers are widespread. “Not every child can afford to have parents pick up and drop them to different activities, which leaves youth, particularly marginalized youth, out of the equation,” Sophia said. Based on the conversations Sophia had, she noticed that young people are unable to get the jobs they want, or even get to school on time, which affects their attendance rates. At Better Bus Youth, they believed that young people and their parents should not have to choose between using transit and paying for food or rent.

“Not every child can afford to have parents pick up and drop them to different activities, which leaves youth, particularly marginalized youth, out of the equation.”

The determination Sophia held led her to the corridors of power in Regina. She presented her innovative ideas for city improvements, including proposals for more green spaces, better accessibility and promotion of native plant life to city council and the city’s head of sustainability. Her proposals were met with enthusiasm, and she was invited to join the Community Advisory Group for the Energy and Sustainability Framework, Regina’s ambitious plan to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Then, while representing more 200 people, Sophia presented on transit in the city to council. Her goal was to acquire fare-free transit for those under age 13.

Sophia’s involvement was instrumental in securing unanimous city council approval for the plan in March 2022. But her work did not stop there. Sophia continued to rally community support and engage youth in the plan, ensuring their voices were heard. “I think because of the community support and youth getting more involved, the plan was able to pass,” Sophia reflected.

The vision Sophia had was rooted in what accessible transit could accomplish. Through helping youth and new residents reach school or work on time, Sophia saw the potential Regina had as a sustainable city.

“I realized I wasn’t alone in my transportation barriers. I saw that transportation barriers were obstacles to opportunities, friendships and dreams.”

The power of art

Sophia’s community work in Regina extends to the arts. She organized an art exhibition featuring the work of local youth. The artwork displayed at the exhibition underscored the importance of a healthy environment for the community.

The exhibition was a resounding success, attracting more than 200 attendees, including students, families and adults interested in climate change. The artwork was purposely curated and displayed to portray how Earth and sustainability are the foundation of communities.

Because the display was housed at the local library, visitors would also stop by, intrigued and willing to listen. Often, community members just need to be presented with an opportunity to understand environmental issues.

Sophia is now in the process of getting her art displayed at city hall. She’s working on a mural around connecting accessible transit and protecting nature.

“Empowering youth to act not only benefits young people themselves, but also contributes to building more resilient, inclusive and sustainable communities.”

The Importance of community

Sophia’s journey stems from her love for her community. “The foundation of a community that I see is our communities are healthy and eco-friendly. Everything else revolves around that.”

When she was 16, she saw the lack of funding being put toward the environment as an issue. Sophia was inspired by a youth forum that the David Suzuki Foundation held in autumn 2019. She wrote and recited a poem to Regina city council, asking them to allocate funds for environmental initiatives. Although there was no active change made after, she represented 113 delegates and realized the power of a united voice.

With a plan in mind to push for expansion of free transit to include high-school students, Better Bus Youth began by creating an ongoing petition to garner public support. Through media interviews and public speaking, they were able to gather 1,500 signatures. They also made partnerships with 12 community organizations that willingly offered their spaces for event venues, donated food and connected them to art galleries to display their installations.

When discussing the interconnectedness of environment and social issues, Sophia stated, “We cannot be well if our communities are struggling from the effects of climate change because it perpetuates social inequalities.” With this in mind, she’s worked toward bridging the gap between issues within the community and environmental issues.

A framework to making change

Change does not happen overnight, and the changes Sophia wanted in Regina were no different.

Better Bus Youth are strong advocates for working alongside government partners on climate work in communities.

“Working with various stakeholder groups, such as new residents, enriches our advocacy and thus city policy because it amplifies the community’s voice. It fosters mutual respect, so individuals feel connected and invested in their community’s well-being to hold decision-makers accountable, building a better community for everyone.”

Having succeeded in Regina at implementing fare-free transit for people 13 and younger, Sophia and Better Bus Youth hope to see similar plans in other communities across Canada. What keeps them hopeful are the youth, community members and organizations that they are surrounded by. With distinct groups showing support for sustainability and environmental protection and willing to fight for change by raising their voices, change for the better does not seem far out of reach.

Charged Up is the story of you — of all of us — on a mission for a cleaner, healthier charged-up Canada.